You don’t want your student to be consumed with test prep stress! These simple strategies will relax your students and ease their stress.
Why Students Get Stressed During Test Prep
Test prep stress can raise the emotional temperature of your class. What are its causes?
Too Much Information
As teachers, we have already mastered the content being tested.
We can handle lessons and reviews that are wide in scope and deep in content because, for us, it is all review.
Students are learning this information for the first time. Their brains are working hard to sort and store this information.
When we cover too much, too fast, we overwhelm our students, and their stress level skyrockets.
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Fear of the Unknown
Students can know the material well, but they can feel anxiety about what to expect.
The fear of the unknown is real.
They may worry about the type of questions and structure of the test.
They may fear they will not have studied the right material.
Worry About Outcome
Tests are just one way to gauge what a student has learned. They are not the only way.
But to students (and to administrators and education officials), they are seen as the most important way.
This puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the students to do well at testing.
This pressure often has the unintended effect of causing students to panic or freeze; then, it’s impossible for them to perform well on tests.
As a teacher, you have to balance the scales.
You want students to care about the test outcome, so they will adequately prepare, but you don’t want to make it such a huge deal that their anxiety controls them.
Then they can’t show what they know, which is the whole point of taking a test!
Ways to De-Stress During Test Prep
Now that you know the stressors, let’s find the antidotes to test prep stress!
Familiarize Your Students with the Test Structure
You can counteract the fear of the unknown by making the structure of the test known.
Talk about the types of questions, the length of the test, and any time limits.
Do practice tests. This is the best way to prepare students to do well on a test. Show them exactly what to expect.
If you can, give review sheets as study aids.
Break Test Prep into Bite-Sized Pieces
No one swallows a steak whole. You have to cut it into bite-sized pieces.
It’s the same with test prep. Break everything into small chunks.
Don’t assume the student remembers background skills.
Do a quick “Blast from the Past Review” of prior skills or content needed to understand the new skill or content.
Break up your lessons. Don’t drone on for 20 minutes of solid instruction.
You can do as little as five minutes of instruction, take a quick 30-second stretch (or some other form of a break), and then ask students for a quick summary of what you just taught. Then you can proceed.
Mini-lessons and quick summaries can help your students understand in layers and not get overwhelmed.
Cultivate a Growth Mindset
If a student is in a negative state of mind, he can’t learn. It’s almost impossible!
How do you show him what he is capable of learning? Cultivate a growth mindset.
We have a lot of tools to help you do just that.
- Check out these articles on What Is Growth Mindset? and Growth Mindset Vs. Fixed Mindset
- Here’s a list of growth mindset quotations
- These growth mindset activities can help kids practice
- Decorate your room with these free growth mindset posters
- Tie it into handwriting with these print and cursive growth mindset worksheets
Try Breathing Exercises
When you are stressed, your breathing becomes shallow and more frequent.
This affects the amount of oxygen you take in, which can further your feeling of panic.
Slow things down with calming breathing exercises.
Teach them to fill their lungs fully (“Feel your belly expand. Now let your ribs expand too.”).
Here’s a breathing exercise to try: Starfish Breathing
- The student places one hand on the desk and traces its outline with the finger of the opposite hand.
- As he moves up a finger, he inhales.
- As he traces down the other side of the finger, he exhales.
Take a Dance Break
Nothing cancels stress like dancing! A quick movement break can reset the body and the mind.
You can play your own music or dance along with a video.
Take a Stretching Break
Stretching relaxes muscles and eases tension.
When you couple stretching with some basic yoga poses, you can give the brain a much-needed break from academic work and focus on balance, breath, and strength.
Use the Power of Nature to Calm
It is not always possible to take a break and head outside, but you can bring the outdoors into your classroom.
By focusing on nature, you can calm the mind and ease test prep stress.
Cast a slide on the screen of a nature scene, like a lapping ocean or a quiet forest.
You can even take a minute to visualize what it would be like to be there.
What would you feel?
What would you hear?
How would you move slowly through the space?
You could also play nature sounds as a background: falling rain, crashing waves, or rustling leaves.
Another way to focus on nature is to investigate some natural items: shells, leaves, rocks…even bugs!
Invite students to use their powers of observation.
This quick break can refresh and recharge your students.
Enlist the Senses
Students were made to do more than face a whiteboard every minute of the day. Enlist the senses:
Smell: Diffuse essential oils
Sound: Play nature sounds or gentle music
Sight: Try picture study of comics, artwork, or photographs
Students can associate a particular location with feeling stressed, so get them out of their seats as much as possible.
Change seats or, better yet, use alternative seating from time to time.
If you have young children, moving to a soft rug is one of the quickest strategies to ease stress.
Older students love bean bag chairs and comfy chairs.
Strategies to Ease Stress During Test Prep
You can counteract and reduce test prep stress with these simple and effective strategies.
By easing the stress around test prep, you can set your students up for success.
And as a bonus, you can lower your stress level too!